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War Memorial, Stockwell

Whilst researching out a tour of Life in London during World War II, I was excited to find out that small buildings that I had not really noticed before, but walked past hundreds of times, were a lot more interesting than I thought.

These fairly nondescript buildings were the entrances to deep-level shelters, built during the War for accommodation and protection of Londoners during the blitz.

10 were planned, 8 were built and each could fit 8000 people with facilities which, whilst not luxurious, were marginally better than the underground stations that people had taken to shelter in at the beginning of the blitz.

As it happened, they never really got much use as construction only finished well after the main bombing campaigns had stopped, but I guess we weren't to know that at the time.

After the war it was thought they may form part of a new express underground train network that had been talked about, but this never came to fruition. Instead they were mainly used for document storage, although one in Clapham is being used as a hydroponic farm to grow micro-greens and salad leaves.

My favourite, however, has to be the one in Stockwell, South London. A vibrant mural has been painted on it, incorporating images of local history including James Bond (Roger Moore grew up in Stockwell), the artist Vincent Van Gogh who lived in the area during his twenties (who knew!) and a representation of the Empire Windrush ship which brought migrants over from the West Indies after the war, many of whom settled in Stockwell.

Amongst the various poppies painted there is also the image of another local heroine, Violette Szabó. She was involved in espionage for the UK and was captured, interrogated, tortured and executed at only 23 years of age whilst on her second mission to France. She was the first British woman to be awarded the George Cross.

Originally the mural showed a gun pointing at Violette Szabó's head however there were some complaints about the image so it was changed. The mural opened on 26th June 2001 by Szabó's daughter, Tania, and Virginia McKenna who plays her in the film 'Carve her name with pride'. Fierce.

There is another which has been renamed the Eisenhower Centre by Goodge Street tube station, in reference to its former use as an HQ for the Allied armed forces and a signals installation used by the US Army Signal Corps in the lead up to the D-Day landings of 1944.

I believe London Transport Museum sometimes organises tours down there and I will be first in line once booking is open.

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